INSTANTLY SLOW AND DEEPLY SUPERFICIAL

 

My Wife and I apologize to anyone we have snubbed or ignored this past year while our world was spinning a bit out-ta control. Apparently while we were hunkering down dealing with our crap-storm, we missed some of your births, funerals and a bunch of other things that happen in between. Also, apparently during that time, we became the only home cooks in the developed world that have not yet purchased an Instant Pot crockpot.

When I first heard about these Instant Pot mega-fast slow-cookers, all I could think of was what other wacky oxymorons I could cook in it like jumbo shrimp, hot chili, boneless ribs or vegetarian meatballs.

Is this something I need?  Should I be joining one of the many Instant Pot cults that seem to have popped up over the past few months? There are all manner of Instant Pot cookbooks, on-line groups and forums each sharing tips, recipes and about a zillion foodie photos of quickly-cooked unconventual creations. Have I missed the wave on this one? Because I was ahead of the curve on the Neti Pot trend a few years back… but that’s a very different kind of pot that I’m definitely not keen on sharing pics of my unconventual creations with that one.

So I wonder, is the Instant Pot so amazing that I will be labeled an out-of-touch behind-the-times geezer the next potluck party I show up to carrying my old traditional crockpot? Or is it a lame product with good marketing like the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, the Potty Putter or the Flowbee hair cutting vacuum. I mean, I do not want to be like my 90-year-old Dad; we recently had to finally take his car keys but since he won’t use a smartphone he can’t just take Uber.  Is my old crockpot the same as my Dad’s flip phone that is not even set up for texting?

More importantly, should I care? I’ve never been a bandwagon guy so should I just sit out the Instant Pot mania and wait around long enough, like I did with my record albums and turntable, whereby doing absolutely nothing for a couple of decades I suddenly became cutting edge hip and cool for using old-school technology? I could also wait for the rotary phone to come back too.  I’d say I should write an app that converts my smartphone screen to look like a rotary phone but I assume that someone has already beat me to that.

But is all this Instant Pot inspired keeping up with the Joneses, Zuckerbergs and Popeils really worth it?  I’ve always been very unhappy with myself when I realize my motivation for doing something is based on what others think. Its easy to trip into that pit but I am hoping some of the crummy stuff I have had to deal with the past few months has helped refocus my perspective and priorities.

My wife obviously has had her good and bad days dealing with the recent passing of her mother. This past weekend was particularly rough while we worked on getting her Mom’s taxes done. You have no doubt heard the saying that ‘ in life the only two things you can be sure of is death and taxes’ but it would be nice if you did not have to worry about the later after the first happens. As my wife answered Turbo Tax’s difficult depressing questions, I quietly sat on the floor feebly assisting  by wading through the last important box of my Mother-In-law’s notes, receipts and paperwork.

The hardest was the increasingly difficult to read handwritten scribbles my wife had saved from inside numerous half-started pads and notebooks. Mixed in the to-do lists and financial info were repeated personal reminders to herself of who important loved ones were and what occupations they had. She obviously was trying to hold onto basic information that Alzheimer’s had been slowly stealing from her. I sat there trying not to let my wife see that I was getting upset as I looked up totals and numbers for her. Undoubtedly she has a much heavier heart than me on this one and she does not need me setting her off on a spiral of wallow.

I seem to be at a place in my life where I am constantly dealing with the realities of terminal illness, life and death a lot. It feels like it is surrounding me and I see no end in sight. I don’t think fads and crazes, Instant Pots and parties mean a whole lot to me right now.  But I am trying to find a balance. But this might not be something I can whip up in an Instant Pot. This might take some time. I just hope I don’t turn into that old Andy Warhol oxymoron “I am a deeply superficial person.”

instant pot

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in it is what it is | 1 Comment

SALADE D’OEUF

Despite no one wanting to deal with a wallowing whining why-me wimp,  ‘Sullen Dan’ still occasionally drops by for an uncomfortable unwanted visit. Luckily, it’s fairly rare that he makes his way out of his dreary cave under a particularly grotty back-corner of my limbic system down a long poorly lit corpus callosum hallway hidden behind a much more happy-go-lucky hemisphere of my brain. Personally, I wish he would stay in there; I don’t like the guy. Whenever he is around I find myself having to apologize afterward for his dour mood. I mean, well… he’s a putz.  But as much as I try to keep the guy outta the house, every once in a while he drops in unannounced at the stupidest of times, like the other day when I ruined my hopes of a delightful refreshing lunch by making a particularly repulsive batch of egg-salad.

Now I normally like egg salad, but it’s always been a background food for me. I enjoy it when it happens to magically appear in front of me, it’s just not a food that pops in my mind very often. I can’t say in the past I have woke up craving egg salad like I have with other foods like bacon and… um bacon, and of course… well bacon. I don’t have a mental block against egg salad, I hold no ill will or anger towards egg salad.  I have no scaring painful traumatic memories relating to childhood egg salad abuse like I do with brussel sprouts from when my Mom made me sit at the table hours after everyone else finished dinner until I finally consumed my serving of increasingly cold and nasty brussel sprouts from my plate. A test of wills that of course I lost but still remember.

No, it’s nothing bad, egg salad just does not normally pop into my mind when I am making something to eat. And most certainly with all the other more exciting crave-worthy options in the world, I’d never consider ordering egg salad in a restaurant or deli. It’s just a mushed up hard boiled egg with a handful of simple ingredients. You would think I could whip up a nifty little sandwich worth pretty easily. Yeah. you would think.

I make a dandy tuna fish salad.  Which correct me if I am wrong but the only difference between ‘tuna fish’ and ‘tuna fish salad’ is that with tuna fish you just plop it out of the can versus ‘tuna salad’ where you toss lots more crap into it to cover up the actual taste of tuna. I remember as a kid watching my Mom and Sister using their respective recipes to doctor a can of tuna with stuff like celery, lemon, pickle juice, onions, and enough dollops of mayonnaise to triple your daily recommended fat intake. Theirs was definitely more salad than tuna but I like the taste of canned tuna, so I personally go light on the salad part.

My tuna salad is sometimes extra odoriferous though, because I often add ingredients like curry, tamarind or Branston pickle to it. Then I really stink up the house by making it a Tuna Melt with some sort of ooozy cheese on top.  I like the cheese…. especially melted. My wife hates the smell of it, so the past few years I save it as a treat for when she is not home

You would think my mastery in elevating a simple tin ‘o’ tuna to Dan’s Sammy Salad de Tuna Meltski Tres Magnifique would transfer to the salads of the chicken or the egg (not sure which would come first) but alas success on those salad variations is elusive to me.

You see, when I am sandwiching at home, I rarely remember the simple delight of a successfully splendid egg salad. It’s like pimento salad; I never remember that pimento salad exists till I see someone else get pimento salad, then suddenly I want pimento salad, I ask for a taste of their pimento salad and usually love it, I say to myself ‘I need to pick up pimento salad next time I’m out’, which I then forget until years later when someone else orders a pimento salad and the whole thing starts over again. As a kid I never even knew pimento salad existed. The only thing I knew about pimentos was that somebody spent a lot of time shoving them into olives. I didn’t even know they were a pepper. But eggs, I knew eggs. Yet for decades egg salad just never was on my radar.

But more recently I have had egg salad on the brain… not literally, unless that Sullen Dan guy dropped some heading back to his hidden home. The past few years the Wife and I have been trimming carbs. That started her hard-boiled-egg-a-holic kick. Frequently there is a bowl of them in the fridge. Sometimes she just slices them with salt and pepper but quite often she whips up a batch of egg salad. It’s great stuff and I have seen her with it enough that I not only remember it but actually have had a craving.

Now my wife is one of those people with an amazingly perceptive pallet (yes I know, since she is with me you assume the only taste she has is in her mouth). When she tastes something, she can usually pick off every last subtitle ingredient that is in it. It’s crazy. She could get a job at some food analysis lab or least make bribe money at the state fair bake-off threatening to expose the winning entrant’s recipes.

She uses that skill to cook by taste versus recipe. Which I can’t do. She takes a little sip and can say something like ‘oh that needs a pinch of Cream Of Tartare’. How could she know that would be the missing link? I know we have an ancient package of Cream Of Tartare in the spice cabinet but I don’t even know what the hell Cream Of Tartar is. It sounds like a cheap Campbell’s soup flavor like Pepper Pot that cleans your teeth while you eat it.

This makes it hard for me to reproduce her food because she just kinda makes it up as she goes along. And it works!  Nothing tastes 100% the same as the last time she made it but it’s usually pretty damn good. Unfortunately, because her pinch of this, dash of that, season to taste directions, when I try to follow one of her loose recipes I usually produce something reminiscent of what my dog deposited in the yard… the day before…  in the middle of the summer… after he ate two cans of bean and liver flavored store brand generic dog food…  and a raw steak off the counter. Something like that is what happened the last time I tried to make egg salad.

A few weeks ago all these things combined, and I not only remembered about egg salad, I had my first real hankering for egg salad. I grabbed the last hard-boiled egg from the fridge mixed in all the ingredients that I could recall my wife using, smushed it all together with a fork, smeared it on some bread and blamo, I made my first from scratch egg salad sandwich in decades. And it sucked.

Oh it did not just suck a little, it sucked more than the quality control testing area of a drinking straw factory, it sucked worse than  a  Kirby Vacuum door-to-door salesman convention, it sucked like Pauly Shore’s Bio-Dome movie… it was just plain spit that out of your mouth vile. I did not know that food could taste that bad. I’d have rather eaten a surströmming and casu marzu sandwich with a side of durian fruit. I’m not sure what I did wrong but it was god-awful.

The only thing more foul then the food was my mood afterward. Egg salad seemed so simple to make and I completely screwed it up. Plus that was my last egg; I was now eggless and had no way to quench this rare egg salad desire.  Sullen Dan came creeping out of his hole and the fact that he appeared just made me even more irrationally moody. How could my egg salad err make me so miserable? Luckily my wife was not home to see me become irrationally upset over egg salad. Oh well. At least we had some tuna.

egg boy

Posted in it is what it is | Tagged , | 1 Comment

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF MR. ZIPPY

My computer is breaking down and dying.

For years Mr. Zippy and I had been in a long-term relationship spending a lot of quiet nights and busy days together.  Long ago after a messy break up Bessie, my primitive
Windows XP beast named after a pleasant but slow-moving cow, Mr. Z moved into my house and left his mark immediately. He was a show off right from the start with his sleek muscular hard drive and a glistening processor. He could fly like an Olympic sprinter on a summer afternoon speeding off the blocks, making this fickle user quickly forget about poky ole’ Bessie.
In his prime Mr. Zippy was a fast and lean monster, strong enough to fight off an attacking virus behind the scenes while still seamlessly performing his other tasks. Quiet and unassuming he rested dedicatedly near my desk just waiting to show off his remarkable quickness and agility when I engaged him.
Even when he grew a little older, putting on a bit of excess data baggage like we all do, his famously fast start-ups only slowed a little. He was just a year younger than my wife’s bright red Inspirion Windows Vista laptop, but was always way less clunky than her.  OK, granted, with Vista that did not take much. On a good day my late-1980s rectangular Apple Mac (banana) box could outpace red Ms. Lappy… well, except when it was trying to download a photo from the AOL mail server over a dial-up connection.

At the time both computers served us well but look, sometimes your kid becomes a Harvard grad lawyer and sometimes they spend their life working in the basement oil-draining pit of a Jiffy Lube. You love them both but… Ms. Lappy just did not live up to her potential and my wife got a new laptop a few years ago.  But I can’t say much, Ms. L was a mistake that I pressured my wife into.  That is why I 100% let her build Mr. Zippy for me and I was not let down.

Mr. Zippy and I spent a lot of time together. He helped me write almost every one of these blog posts the past decade.  Unlike most people I know, he listened to my music without complaining about my bizarre tastes. When I break out my pictures he never rushed through them at a faster pace than I wanted to.  We have shared an endless amount of hours together watching only the sports and videos I chose; I’d have lost most of my friends if I put those demands on them. Mr. Zippy even showed me a few things that I would be embarrassed to tell my wife about, like do I really want her know I saw a topless photo of Suzanne Somers.  Do I really want anyone to know that?   It’s a good thing that even in his very weak current state, he can still keep a secret.

Unfortunately, things changed this past year. Mr. Zippy’s sprinting days are long behind him. Just like it takes me longer to get out of bed and ready to go in the morning, his start-ups were taking an eternity.  Whereas it used to be by the time I looked up from pushing the ‘on’ button, he would already be working on the second step of firing up windows,  the last few months I got in the habit of wandering away to make a cup a coffee or take out the dog while he ran though his computerized preparatory ablutions before being ready for me.

As I have gotten older I have started doing more things to keep myself physically and mentally going. I take vitamins and herbs, use various salves, creams and oils, give myself more time to get tasks done and I take less unnecessary risks like staying out of bad neighborhoods late at night. I tried to do the same for my pal Mr. Zippy. Regularly adding useful software updates, defraging more often, updating his protection from malicious malware, staying off of suspect sites like that one with that scary Suzanne Somers photo (sometimes your imagination is better than reality).

But even with my exaggerated care and patience, all the coddling and babying, Mr. Zippy seems to be zipping no-more. He is not completely flat-lining yet but we are at the point that I am greeted by the blue screen of death more often than not. Oh he valiantly tries to run without collapsing but I feel cruel and sad whenever I push him.  The other day I had to unplug Mr. Z after he went into a vicious circle of startups and crashes like a strength-less dying man with futile dreams of getting outside his hospice walls, using his last gasps of life to repeatedly push his way out of the hospital bed only to fall back onto it.

It got ugly for Mr. Zippy about two weeks ago. I mistakenly confused the grinding clicking sound that emitted from his box while his screen stayed completely black as his death knell. After several days of fruitless attempts, I made the assumption that I had lost all my files since my last back-up several months ago. I again started making the usual unkeepable promises to myself that in the future I will faithfully do monthly backups.

Then like a brave wounded soldier using his last gasps of breath to save his buddies, Mr. Zippy briefly sprang back to life for a few short days, giving me enough time to pick his brain, reminisce about all our old times together and save-off everything important to an external hard-drive life support system. Then the other morning he was done. No fanfare, no poof of smoke from the back or last dying words. With the same quiet dignity he had when he was a young RAM-full speedster, he shut down properly one last time and was done. It was back to the constant blue screen crashes.

My wife offered to let me use her current laptop but it just did not feel right. I dug under the sofa in her office and found old red Ms. Lappy.  Although a year older then Mr. Zippy and unused for years, she still fired up like she always did. Her Vista is not supported by a lot of websites, she slogs through web pages like a drunken snail, her CD drive still does not work and she is buggy at best when trying to shut down but she worked. Apparently, yet again, the tortoise won the race.

I have had to deal with a lot of sickness and death lately. That stuff plays on your mind and when my computer started actin gup I thought ‘here we go again’. Then I realized Mr. Zippy had taught me something during his last few months. By moving slower he forced me not to rush. To take more breaks and look away from the screen while I waited for him.  He was not so slow that I got frustrated but slow enough to give me time to think, to disengage from the screen and step into the real world more. Changing my pace and mindset. Without me knowing it, he helped me to appreciate real life more and to be less attached to him. Time to move from escapism and use those moments to assess the changes in myself as I have aged.  Maybe before he got disassembled with his hard drive erased, he knew ‘slow and steady’ was going to win and wanted to show me that was just not so bad.
Thank you Mr. Zippy and rest in pieces.

 

l_d14b6dfb33644c04afed94f6486a507f

Posted in it is what it is | Leave a comment

YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW LICKS

My little dachshund dog is old. B.J. was a rescue so I am not 100% sure of his exact age but I believe in ‘people years’ he is somewhere between 105 and Methuselah squared. He is fairly blind, mostly deaf, can’t smell too well, has a weak back paw, a bad hip, constantly grunts loudly because he can’t hear himself and is more than a little bit incontinent. But besides that, he is in perfect puppy health.  

I try not to laugh too hard when he walks into the closed screen door, trips over his own paws or falls aimlessly into the pool. I don’t get too mad when he has an accident in the house; I figure it’s my fault since I don’t have the heart to make him wear the embarrassing doggie diapers with pastel paw print pictures I purchased months ago after a particularly messy three-pair of socks weekend that tested my patience as well as the water resistance of my wood floors. Although often more stiff, confused, tired and persistent than he used to be, he seems to have adapted well to the changes in his pooch body, does not appear frustrated with his limitations and still seems happily content with his world.

He is part of the family so my wife and I deal with it. Besides it’s nice bot being the only one in the house that has more grey facial then not. I just hope karma is a real thing because I sure wish to have a similar mix of dignity and self-deprecation if  I get to his advanced age.  I know all of you can close your eyes and easily picture a wobbly very old Depends-wearing decrepit Dan with giant thick over-sized glasses falling into the pool. And yes, I know you would laugh.  And of course, I would not have it any other way. All I ask is for a modicum of respect when you fish me out of the drink.

Since the wife and I don’t have children, I know we put more emphasis on our pets than reproducers do. I’ve seen that parenting instinct substitution many times before. I was only 18 the first time I really noticed it.  An older woman I worked with had a pet canary that was more spoiled than Veruca Salt.  Years earlier the woman had been a chorus girl / dancer on numerous CBS television variety shows throughout the 1950s and 60s. During that time she met and married a dapper network news reporter. Neither had any desire to put their fun fulfilling lives hold to properly raise children. 

We talked several times about it and aside from the rare hormonal-driven emotional pang she had no real regrets about her childless choices. That was a good lesson for me to learn at that age. The world might be a much better place if it were filled with people that had children because they wanted to versus the societal and religious pressures to. Of course that does not account for all us oopses out there.

I really enjoyed talking about life with my kid-less co-worker but I had a hard time getting past that whole overly pampered bird thing. It was not the transposed love from child to pet issue but more that I am just not a bird guy.  Not having kids made perfect sense, putting that energy towards a feathered flying rat did not. Watching her coddle and dote on that thing kinda creeped me out. 

I have mentioned before that my folks briefly had a pet bird. He was horrid. A bright yellow sunny-faced cockatiel with cheery little orange circles on its cheeks that might have looked all sweet but the little bastard was like that clown from the Stephen King novel, all jolly happy looking on the outside but pure evil inside!

He’d make unearthly guttural groans at me when I walked by like he was possessed by an aviary demon and then it would try to peck at me whenever I got close. I envisioned him gouging my eyes out and picking the flesh off my bones in an attack far worse than anything Alfred Hitchcock dreamed up in The Birds.

I know some dog people out there look at my megga-spoiled cats with the same suspect eye as I did that woman’s bird, so I understand the differing of opinions. It’s okay that she showered parental-like love on a freaky flying fowl-family egg-laying vertebrate but its not for me. If I’m playing that game I’m sticking with four-legged domesticated animals.

Caring for an elderly pup, like a human, is a lot of extra work. It can be difficult and frustrating but I will take it over the alternative for as long as possible.

pup

Posted in it is what it is | Leave a comment

STRIPPED

 

In this late in coming age of Me Too and Times Up with its bright spotlight finally illuminating the grossly unfair plight, flat out abusive treatment and mentally crippling objectification of women in our society, it would only occur in my twisted brain to be the appropriate time to write about strip clubs.

Now before you draw a permanent reflexive-response connection between my name and spinning tassels, sparkly pasties and dental floss sized g-strings, let me back up a minute and make it 1000% clear that I have always thought woman were equal to men. I have been called a great many things from ‘annoying’ to… well… ‘really really annoying’, but never have I been called a sexist… ever!

Both sexes have their superior points and both have their far worse points. Our diversity helps makes us the same. It’s our unfortunate dated cultural collective past that propagates the myth of inequality. Since I was raised to think that neither is better than the other, I have treated all my female ships (partner, friend, business, relation…) without thought of superiority on either side.

Yet despite all of that, I have no problem with the existence of strip clubs. Then again, I have no problem with EZ Quickie high-interest loan stores that infamously prey on the poor, liquor stores that indirectly destroy livers and lives, casinos that bankrupt those that can least afford it and McDonald’s who has been slowly expanding waistlines, dulling taste buds and destroying stomach linings with pink slime burgers for generations. We are a free society and if I don’t want to walk in the door of any of those places, I don’t have to.

Although I don’t have an issue with strip clubs, I rarely go. I understand the negative psychological, sociological, financial and societal consequences for both the patrons and the performers but that’s not what keeps me away. I just don’t have much patience for glitter, the smell of $8 a bottle perfume, bad loud music, grossly overpriced drinks and manipulative mindless small talk with people whose only goal is to extract money out of my wallet and into theirs. I have no problem with naked people, but I have seen plenty in my life already and it’s just not worth all the nonsense to see a few more.

I was a Freshman in college when my buddy Mike and I along with my then-girlfriend all went to a strip club for the first time. It truly was more of a curiosity thing. The dumpy small town Florida Panhandle club did not cater to the cream of society with its dingy floors, cheesy mirrored walls, sequined curtains, low ceiling and a tiny scuffed stage with a smudged-up pole in the middle. The dim lighting did not help improve the looks of the establishment, customers or entertainers. There were some young military guys from the local air force base but most of the other patrons were kinda old and crusty. That said, I still felt strangely grown-up like the first time I gambled in a casino or the first time I ordered straight whiskey in a bar or the first time a doctor examined my prostate.

Later that same weekend my girlfriend’s mother gave us old some scary used mannequin heads she was going to toss out from the back room of a beauty college she had just purchased. They had realistic eyes and overly permed burnt-out fake toned blond hair. Because of the numerous similarities, we named the heads Heidi and Brandy Alexander after two of the more bimbo-sh strippers we saw the night before.

For years, Brandy and Heidi were used for numerous pranks finding their way into refrigerators, car backseats, beds, hung from the ceiling and hidden in an attic. They made it to Vegas on the rear window shelf of a cranberry red Cadilac, been used to play tug-a-head-war with my dogs, and much to my wife’s chagrin, one even made it to my wedding as a surprise gag gift opened during the reception.

Speaking of my wedding, the night before the ceremony my best man Mike led a large group of my family and friends on a multi-stop wacky semi-impromptu bachelor-ish party. When he brought the whole motley group to a local strip club, my Sister incredulously asked ‘what’s next, a cock-fight?’ One of my lesbian friends seemed very interested in where the dancers got their boots and clothing, while some of the more conservative folks looked at the experience as a sociological study. At the time, I protested against going in but in hindsight, it was pretty amusing to watch members of my family uncomfortably mill about ignoring the obvious for our 20 minutes stay.

Many years before that, I had a business associate that adored strip clubs and we definitely went to them more times then I’d like to admit to. It was during those years I learned I had a preference concerning those places No surprise that I hated the big sleek glossy clubs with hoards of pushy fake-looking women that appeared to be almost permanently laminated with a mountain of make-up. Instead, I was attracted to the more oddball burlesque-ish strange places where people watching was the real show.

Atlanta’s Clermont Lounge in the basement of an obscure flophouse hotel is a crazy odd experience that is hard to rival. With its bizarre surroundings, colorful clientele and strangely-diverse significantly-older tattooed more full-figured dancers, it is half strip joint half carnival  freak show. California’s Jumbo Clown Room is as odd as its name and apparently, 30 years is still not enough time to unsee what is etched into my brain from the one in Guam I was taken to.

Truth is, I’m all big talk when it comes to these places. I am far from being a prude but I  just don’t enjoy going because I have a hard time shutting my mind off as my brain wanders. I start wondering why and how the dancers ended up there. What led them to this and where will they be in a dozen years? Who is taking advantage of who? Is it degrading or empowering? Is it really any worse than the female barber showing a bit more cleavage to get more tips? Is it warping Men’s opinions of woman? And where do morality and ethics fall into the equation? Is there a difference between a stripper, exotic dancer and a burlesque queen?  My head spins with all this nonsense and it’s just easier not to go.

IMG_0260 (2)

Posted in it is what it is | 1 Comment

A DAN-DEE NINE-DEE

We had a big family hoop-dee-doo this past weekend to celebrate my Dad’s upcoming 90th birthday. I can’t fathom turning 90. Can you imagine the stuff I could get away with at 90 years old?  ‘Oh, he’s old, he didn’t mean to knock over that giant display of oranges’. “Oh he’s old, he did not mean for us to sit at the intersection through the entire green light while he hobbles like a swaying weeble across the street’. Oh he’s old, he did not mean to drop that can of Spam on the hood of that Lamborghini’. ‘Oh he’s old, he didn’t mean to write a check in the grocery store express lane for his 36 items after he searched 10 minutes in each pocket for an expired coupon at 5:30 pm when the rest of the working-world behind him is trying to rush home’. ‘Oh he’s old, he did not mean to give all the ladies at the nursing home hallucinogenic mushrooms’…

90 years… I am not belittling the accomplishment. But I’ve known my Dad for more than half those years and it’s more like he has casually avoided death versus actively finding a way to stay alive.  I mean, I do not recall him ever exercising.  He spent years overweight.  He smoked till he was in his 50s. Never been on a diet. Consumed burgers, bacon and bourbon whenever the hell he wanted. He worked like a slave way too many hours of the day and slept nowhere’s near enough at night. He lived with mountains of stress trying to make ends meet while raising five kids. Occasionally hung with his pals at the bar, belonged to a gun club, rode the New York City subway for years… These are things that kill most humans. But God Bless him, he keeps chugging along and I pray it is in the genes because I do a helluva lot of the same bad things.

Through months of exchanged e-mails, the party to celebrate 90 years was planned. This was a day to forget about the aches and pains of old age, the frustration of the loss of independence and the scary loneliness of outliving your friends and peers. This was a day to be joyous and celebrate. His eyes have seen wars and peace, walls of separation go up and then inconceivably come down. The Holocaust and 9-11. Man on the Moon and a cure for polio. Born into a world before the first television show was aired and living to see laser-fast computers in most everyone’s pocket. A life well lived, a family well raised.  Sorrow and joy and all the things in between. If there is any solace to knowing that there is more to look back at than forward to, it is knowing you can look back and be proud of a life that has been an unarguable success. 

So we gathered up darn near all the family for a celebration of his 90 years.  Emotions during the weekend were tempered a bit by my Mom’s recent health issues but the family still managed to whip up one of our usual jolly-ole’ chaotic brouhahas. We completely filled a room in one of my Dad’s favorite Florida restaurants with a big mess ‘o’  friends, kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, not-so-great grandkids, cousins, nieces, nephews and a handful of step-second-ex-ins once or twice-removed semi-relatives that I’d need a genealogist or a genie to figure out how we are actually related.

Now for my Clan, it wouldn’t be a big family dinner if at some point Dad did not get annoyed by the restaurant’s bad service.  I’m not sure why something always goes amiss every time we all get together but it is an uncomfortable family tradition that I assume stretches back most of  Dad’s 90 years; though my earliest memory of it was when I was still sporting a single digit age. Our family drove up from New York City to have their first meeting/dinner with my oldest Brother’s soon to be wife’s rural Connecticut family. I can still instantly get looks of dread and horror from my family by just mentioning the name Valle’s Steak House.

In a sort of cautionary ‘welcome to the family’ tale, Dad must have scared the bejeebers out of my brother’s future in-laws, when he blew up like an atom bomb in an active volcano loudly yelling at the restaurant’s staff for the night’s on-going abysmal service.  It might have been well deserved but that infamous explosive first impression is still a story often retold all these decades later. On the precipice of  90, Dad’s still mighty feisty but not with the same intimidating spit and fire, but I could still see the lava brewing behind his tired eyes when it became horribly obvious that his birthday party‘s waitresses’ serving skills were akin to that of the Three Stooges blindfolded.

Any thought of Dad’s fiery anger flaring up disappeared when Mom, through strained whispered breaths, brought the room to tears talking about how dedicated, loving and selfless Dad has been to her and his children through their near 70 years of marriage. Sure, his past fireworks might be the fodder of family lore but it was nice being reminded of his huge heart and straight intentions. 

After the oversized spinning musical blooming flower candle spewed hot wax all over my Sister’s husband, Dad blew out the last few flame remnants. Soon after the massive cake was reduced to mere crumbs and icing edges, my parents were obviously done, as was the party.  Most everyone headed back to the house where the folks mostly napped while the rest of us watched the afternoon turn to evening and then stretch to well past midnight. Photos, laughter, stories, debates and of course the occasional tear, filled the night as the many circles of conversations ebbed and flowed. I mostly sat poolside on the porch near the kegerator enjoying the comforts of being around family. Teased but not judged.

90 years is a long time. I was surprised during one of the later evening conversations when a few of my relatives pointed out that I was the one in the family most obsessed with mortality and death. Maybe that is true. The passing of time has certainly been the subject of many of my blog entries but it is harder still to not to have those thoughts at a 90-year old’s birthday party. It does make me wonder if I make it to that age, what will I be like?  Will I handle it better or worse than Dad? What new inventions will make computers look like Victrolas? And what I really wonder, many many years from now when I am 90, will they finally be finished with that never-ending construction over on the tollway?  

20180301_055039

Posted in it is what it is | 1 Comment

DORKIUS SUPREMUS & THE FALLING CASH

Although my B.S. college degree technically has the word Science in it, since I spent most of my time at Florida State lurking about the Colleges Of Communication, Business School, English department and nearby beaches, its assumed that the B.S. stands for something quite different.  The bachelor part of my personal life ended years ago and my lack of Science study, even during my brief time as a Psychology Major, might explain why I claim, biologically speaking, that I am a member of the ‘ homo-dorkius supremus’ family.

To prove this theory I site as example pre-teen Dan. My 8th grade photos could be used as an educational tool to teach children exactly how to get teased, picked on and bullied. I might have wanted to be like Gallant but I was Goofus. If there was a mega-schmegga homo-dorkius supremus, that would have been me. Luckily in a sort of Darwinistic method of survival, as I grew up I adapted and learned how to hide it better but being a clueless dork is not something you simply outgrow.  These days you can pretty easily change your religion, nation and even sex but it is pretty near impossible to change how you self evaluate. That little voice is pretty damn persistent.

Along with a mouth full of shiny metal braces, Junior High Dan wore black ‘Buddy Holly’ glasses the one decade they were mega-unhip. My sneakers looked more like suede Hush Puppies laced up loosely over clashing socks. My ill-fitting clothing draped atop my uncoordinated body appeared to be rejects from The Brady Bunch wardrobe that sat in storage while fashions changed two or three times before my Mother purchased them for me from the sale bins at a Ridgewood Five and Dime. My hair looked like a weird cross between Dutch-boy bowl-on-the-head and bum living under a bridge. I was a clueless mess living in an odd bubble.

Just by looking at me, my much older sister knew I was a freak-show.  In an attempt to save my dorky butt from repeated New York schoolyard beatings, she gave me a ‘dungaree’ jeans jacket like the cool kids wore, but quickly afterwards I hit a growth spurt and suddenly it was obviously tight with the length too high and arms too short creating a real-life Chris Farley ‘big man in a little coat’ situation. It never would have occurred to me to solve the problem by cutting off the sleeves and painting the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV gatefold cover on the jacket-back like the tough in-the-know kids did.

Although at first I was even more miserable, moving to Miami before 9th grade gave me a fresh start and eventually made my life infinitely better. But as much as I have tried to mentally rewrite my life story making my cluelessness a badge of honor celebrating my uniqueness and individuality, my brain argues otherwise. Those insecure self-images never go away and tend to pop into my head at the worst possible times like when i am about to step into a big-wig business meeting. My wife still teases me about the mixed signals I sent by sitting so far from her on our first date proving even an experienced older Dan was oblivious to the situation’s correct etiquette and the best way to present myself.  I still frequently ask my wife if I look ‘too embarrassing’ before I leave the house.

The difference is, these days I understand that most people walking the earth grow-up with some sort of heavy baggage that they drag around their entire life. Self-image issues are just one of a myriad of mind-games that plague us all. Once you realize everyone is a bit crazy in their own personal way and everyone sometimes feels like they are just getting by, the world becomes far less isolating. It’s become okay in my brain that I am who and what I am.

A weird side effect of this growing into my own skin is that I am more comfortable knowing I do not have to be perfect. As over-compensation for what I perceived as my own shortcomings, I used to get mad if I made mistakes. My wife hates when I still occasionally do it, but for the most part I’ve finally learned I don’t have to know everything. With that comfort, instead of angry, I now become fascinated by things that come along that seem to be common knowledge that somehow have eluded me.

For example, with the recent unfortunate passing of my Mother-In Law, I have watched my Wife tirelessly navigate the piles of estate paperwork sending out more certified copies of the Death Certificate then we do Holiday cards.  It is all still very fresh and with the handling of each form-of-finality her broken heart is harshly poked but we are moving forward. Soon after the obituary was published we started getting sympathy and condolence cards. My wife let them sit on the table for a day or so until she was in the right frame of mind to open and answer them.  Dreading the reminder of her loss, with great trepidation she tore open the first envelope. As she slipped out the generic-looking off-white flowery script printed poem laden card a $20 bill slipped out and fell to the floor.

What was that, we both looked at each other. Did someone mix up their grandkid’s birthday card? It’s not graduation season. She got the card open and it was a sympathy card. We looked at each wondering is this appropriate? Neither of us had heard or ever seen a ‘death of your mother’ card with cash in it before. But then again, neither of us had ever had a death of a mother before.

She opened the next card and it too had a small amount of cash in it. Another had a check. I had heard of memorials and ‘make donations in the name of stuff’ but this still seemed odd. I’ve been walking the Earth a lot of years. I’ve experienced the death of close friends and relatives before but this was new to me. Have I been a rude-ass with every cash-less condolence card I have sent before?  I mean, I’m not crazy, I’ve agonized in that section of the Hallmark store before looking for a card that had the right emotion but did not look like it was picked by a 75 year-old religious grandmother and I have never seen a sympathy card with a check slot.

I logged onto the old Googly-Googleizer to see if I had to add callous lout to all my Clueless Dan inner self-descriptive terms. Apparently this cash in condolence card thing is fairly regional and religion specific but I had never of it.  Sure, you bring a covered dish to the house or have a tree planted for someone but this now will bring up a whole new mental debate next time I have to send a sad card.  You know I now have to slip a $20 bill in.  Online it said people do it to help the bereaved with the expenses but I am assuming mostly I will be passing on some confusion which might just briefly help take someone’s mind off the somber situation at hand. That’s what it did for us.

DORKIEST OF DANS

Posted in it is what it is | 1 Comment